Setting Up Tents
Matthew 17:1-13

Who can relate to Peter in the story of the transfiguration?  He sees a scene that must have absolutely blown his mind and he is babbling, he wants to put up some dwellings or shelters or tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  That’s his response to this amazing and astonishing event, to build something to keep God and his friends in!  When we don’t understand something we try and make it fit into our own box, our own paradigm, we try to rationalize it so that we can understand, or break it down to the lowest common denominator to give us an easy starting point.

That doesn’t often work with God.  God is all powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, most of us don’t even understand those words let alone how they describe God or his interactions with us.  God is beyond human understanding.  Sure we have faith that there is a God who always was and always will be, who created the universe and everything in it, including us, and that when human beings fouled it all up sent his son to put things right again. 

But when it comes to events like the transfiguration we are mesmerised like Peter was and struggle to make sense of it.  One of the commentators I use even suggested not using this reading this week but choosing another one because it is too hard to grasp!

But the transfiguration of Jesus is an important event not to be glossed over, it plays a pivotal role in the journey of Jesus to the cross, and a pivotal role in our journey from Christmas to the cross each year.  Today is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, we’ve had a series of readings that have revealed God at work in the world through his Son Jesus.  Today marks the end of that season as we move to Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent, where we are called to a time or repentance and renewal, discipleship and walking the way of the cross. The season has a sombre character beginning with a reminder on Ash Wednesday that it is from dust that we come and to dust that we shall return.

At this transitional point in the church year the transfiguration of Jesus, high up on that mountain, places Jesus firmly in the life and journey of the disciples and in our lives too. Peter, James and John are there with him, he led them up there for this event.  They saw this take place and fell to the ground in fear.  They were witnesses to God’s miracle, there was Jesus with a face shining like the sun with clothes that became dazzling white, Moses and Elijah were there talking with him and they had left this earth many, many years before.  These witnesses eventually shared their story of amazement with others, just as Jesus had ordered them, “after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

In the midst of it all though, Peter was babbling away foolishly and God the Father cleared his throat and said loudly “This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him” These are the very same words that were heard at Jesus baptism in the Jordan. 

Peter got the hint and listened, that’s something we need to do too, to stop and listen, even when we’re in the middle of all sorts of things that we don’t understand or maybe in the midst of things that we fear, we should stop and listen to what God might be saying to us or leading us toward, especially during the Lenten season as we are repenting, and reflecting, make an opportunity to pause and listen for God, you probably won’t hear an audible voice or see such amazing things as Peter, James and John, but you never know what you might discover unless you take the time to stop and listen.

Don’t do what Peter did and try to put Jesus in a box (well a dwelling place at least), it’s human nature to want to hang on to a wonderful experience, to keep it going for as long as possible, you know the sort of thing, that concert that you are enjoying, the tasty meal that you have been savouring, the long hot shower on a cold morning, when you just want it never to end.  It seems as though Peter wanted to keep it going, to set things up so that it would always be the same, but that wasn’t the purpose of this epiphany, this was about God revealing again to human beings that this Jesus is truly his Son, he is the messiah, sent to save the sins of the world and fix what we messed up. 

This event reveals prophecy of old, here are Moses and Elijah, two prophets and leaders who have played pivotal roles in the journeys of the children of God, alive and wandering around on a mountain top having a chat with Jesus, this is the Son of God, this is the one they were talking about and are now talking to.  Get ready people this son, with whom God is well pleased is about to change their lives forever.  Yet they still struggle to understand it and grasp the enormity of it all.

Don’t let the enormity of it all get the better of you, allow God over the next forty or so days of the Lenten season to speak to you through his word and minister to you through the sacraments.  If you haven’t been making much time for God in your life, ask him to give you a bit of a helping hand, take the time to listen to him as well as the time to speak to him.  Don’t be frustrated by your lack of understanding, let the word of God dwell in your richly, take the opportunity of sitting in on Christie’s Christian Spirituality course to help you learn some ways of spending time with God that you may not have tried or experienced.

You may not have a mountain top experience exactly like the one that Matthew describes of Peter, James and John.  But as the Third Day song Mountain of God says,

“Even though the journey's long
And I know the road is hard
Well the One who's gone before me
He will help me carry on
And after all that I've been through
Now I realize the truth
That I must go through the valley
To stand upon the mountain of God”

Sometimes it is in the dark valleys of life that we are able to look up to the mountain top and rely on the experience of others and their witness to know God and his will for us more fully.  We might not be able to keep God in a box and manipulate him in our way, but he is always with us and has our journeys mapped out for us, we just need to take the time to notice and enjoy taking the journey with him.

Amen